When horses go away they often take on a different eating pattern. Some start eating better and some will eat a lot worse depending usually on how relaxed their personalities are and how fit they are prior to the competition. We always make sure they have fresh forage – even if they have not eaten all of it in one day we will change it for fresh to try and encourage them to eat well.
Fibre is so important to the horse because it aids digestion, and plenty of fibre can help prevent colic type problems. Forage is best offered ad lib as the horse’s digestive system is designed to intake food little and often.
When horses do not have forage for long periods of time this can cause acid in the stomach to build up. When the horse is then exercised it is now thought that this excess acid can ‘splash’ the top of the stomach and as a result cause gastric ulcers. Usually horses that are fed correctly and are therefore less stressed physically do not suffer from gastric ulcers. The best way to treat them is to follow an organised feeding programme with plenty of natural fibre – grass and hay.
If horses are travelling for long periods we always cut out the carbs from the feed. We will usually feed Alfa A and Sugar Beet as well as the usual supplements that the horse has. This is a great way to get water back into the system and prevent any digestion problems when the horse is standing still for long periods of time.
On arrival at a destination we will only add the carbs back into the feed once the horse has been worked. We always take Doctor Green to staying away events and will feed them this as a matter of course as it also helps with digestion. From here on in we try to keep the feeding regime as close to normal as possible (however on dressage and xc days this is sometimes difficult). We always have plenty of carrots and try to keep the feeds slightly smaller to encourage the horses to eat everything.
Before cross country we will feed a horse 5 hours before their xc start time. There is now evidence to support that horses fed within 5 hours of optimal exercise have more energy and recover better than those horses that have not received this feed. We usually take the hay away 2 hours before they run, however we try to avoid the stomach creating too much acid and therefore will give the horse a few picks of hay within these hours.
After exertion we usually wait until the horse has recovered for a couple of hours before we give them a hard feed. We will give them their hay back first as this is more natural for the horse, and the horse had been physically pushed during the previous hours. We usually give a vitamin/ electrolyte booster paste such as Extra Boost; this is full of salts, vitamins and minerals and just helps restore anything that is lost.
Obviously getting the horse out for as much grass as possible at the competitions is vital; this can help with encouraging them to eat their hard feed and can also help restore water. Grass is more natural for horses than hard feed, and they usually really crave it competitions that involve staying away.